Our obsession with the Northeast Conference — which has three city-area teams, including two in Brooklyn — hasn't reached the depths it did last year, but still: This is the official conference of The Sports Section, New York Magazine, and teen dance troupe Rhythm Central. And the conference tournament kicks off tonight.
As we love to remind people, no New York City college basketball team has reached the NCAA Tournament since 2004, when Manhattan sneaked in. St. John's is gonna end that streak this year, but there's a legitimate chance we could have two city teams in the NCAAs this year. Only eight teams make the NEC tournament — the league has twelve teams — and three of them are in the city. And one is the breakaway favorite.
The sentimental choice, though, is St. Francis (NY), the school right by the Borough Hall stop in Brooklyn and the alma mater of Sports Section editor Joe DeLessio's father. The Terriers have never made the NCAA Tournament before. They're the No. 5 seed and play at Central Connecticut State tonight. Down there in the theoretical hinterlands of Staten Island, Wagner, which went 5–26 last season, is the No. 6 seed; they play at Robert Morris, the NEC representative last year and the team that gave Villanova fits in the first round.
But the city's best chance at a rep in the NCAAs from the NEC is Long Island, which has won ten in a row and eighteen of their last nineteen. They're obviously the tourney's No. 1 seed, playing home against St. Francis (PA) tonight. If you haven't been to a Blackbirds game, we highly recommend it. It's right down the street from Junior's, which is a nice selling point.
The NEC tournament lets the higher seed host all games, which means LIU will have home-court advantage throughout. (If there are some upsets, St. Francis and Wagner could end up hosting games, too). The second round is Sunday, with the NEC championship game next Wednesday, on ESPN2. It would be pretty fantastic if that game was played in Brooklyn. We will not pretend to be impartial: Screw Quinnipiac! Go LIU, St. Francis, and (okay, okay) Wagner. If this city is going to end its NCAA drought this year, it might as well do it twice.